She’s a household name in New Zealand and is a recent Olympic silver medalist. Lydia Ko is the Korean-born, New Zealand-raised golfing sensation who’s combined her stunning talent with equal doses of hard work and determination to become the LPGA Tour’s youngest ever winner at the age of 15.
Lydia Ko with her winner’s trophy from the LPGA Canadian Pacific Women’s Open
Interview by: Deirdre Coleman
Just a year before winning this LPGA Tour title, Lydia was attending Pinehurst School and balancing 30-40 hours a week of golf practice with her school work. Back in 2011 Hayes Knight sponsored the North Harbour Club AIMES Emerging Talent Awards and Lydia was among six North Shore locals recognised at the Awards. These annual Awards celebrate the achievements of outstanding young people in the arts, IT innovation and science, music, education, sport and service to the community.
A lot has happened in the last five years. Having turned professional in late 2013, Lydia is now the world’s number one female golfer and most recently, a silver medalist at the Rio Olympics. We spoke to Lydia before the Olympics, as she prepared for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Washington. Ahead of her lay a demanding 11-tournament schedule that included three majors, the PGA Championship, the US Open and the British Open.
What did winning the 2011 Emerging Talent Award mean to you?
It was a real honour to be acknowledged for what I was doing at that time. I hadn’t won anything like that before and I think that gave me a lot of confidence. It was a neat experience meeting others who were doing so well in different areas like music and business.
What’s it like as a young athlete trying to pursue your sporting dreams?
During the majority of my events when I was with the New Zealand team, I was with my mum. It’s always good to have someone who’s consistently there so your routines don’t change that much. It’s hard sometimes; especially being from New Zealand. There are long flights to get to the US or Europe, and obviously that gets expensive. But I was able to get the right support and my team helped me through.
Looking back now, is there any advice you would give your younger self?
I’m not sure I’d do anything significantly different. I feel like I’ve learnt from my lower points. Sometimes, even if you don’t end up winning, there’s so much you can learn from those experiences and you can get better and stronger from them. I love the quote ‘what doesn’t break you makes you stronger’. I feel like every moment has a purpose. Obviously there are moments when I think, maybe I could’ve done one shot better to win or get a better result, but it’s all a learning process.
What have been your top three ingredients for success?
The big thing for me was to get the right advice at the right time, and to have positive people around me, because sometimes when you’re in the moment you don’t realise exactly what’s going on. It’s always good to have people who can offer their thoughts and advice. Obviously, to have the coaches who will help you improve on whatever aspect you’re working on is essential. I’m currently the world number one golfer but there are still endless things for me to improve on.
The most important thing has always been my team – my parents, my teacher, my coaches – and having my family to guide me through. They’ve helped me to be in this position and it’s great to have that support around me. My parents are always with me, on and off the golf course, and my sister goes to the majority of the events I play.
The third thing to me is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.
How has going professional changed things for you?
I live in Florida now. That’s probably the biggest change for me. But I’m hardly ever at home. Most of the time, I’m living out of my suitcase. That’s just part of what I do -being on the road and playing tournaments. The great thing about that is that I get to visit different parts of the world and experience different cultures.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It depends on the time of year and what tournaments I’m playing. When I’m home in Orlando, I’m either resting up for a few days, training with my coaches, or with my parents. In the off weeks I don’t like to play on the course much. Instead I work on different parts of my game. When I am home, I work out almost every day, but on the road, I just do warm-ups and light activation exercises. We play Pro Am most weeks, and the tournaments are usually four days, so we end up playing five or six rounds a week.
What’s it like as a teenager to be surrounded by adults most of the time at tournaments?
I’m getting used to it. When I was first on tour, I was probably the youngest one out there but now there are girls more my age and a couple of months younger. It’s good to no longer be the youngest. Golf’s a sport that anyone of any age can play. On tour you see girls from their teens through to their fifties – it’s one of the great things about golf.
Is goal-setting an important part of your career?
Yes. Obviously, I have some big career goals. The Olympics are a top priority for 2016. It’s the first time women will play golf in the Olympics and to represent your country on that stage will be a pretty special week. Ever since golf was announced at the Olympics I wanted to get on that team.
I also like to set tournament goals when I get to an event and that changes from week to week. I don’t like to say ‘I want to win this tournament five times’ or whatever. That can get a little unrealistic because I could be playing great, but someone else might be playing even better. It’s more personal goals that can make the overall outcome better by the end of the season, like working to improve the percentage of fairways I hit.
What’s your proudest achievement to date?
Tournament-wise, it would be my two majors, plus winning the National Open in New Zealand three times – those have been really proud moments. But for me, when I go to tournaments, my favourite thing is when juniors come up to me and say ‘hey, you’re my role model’. I love hearing that; it inspires me to be a better player and a better person. And if I can make a little bit of a difference, if one more junior can take up the game, I think it’s a good result for me.